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California: San Joaquin County Office of Education 500 kilowatt Solar Parking Lot Dedication by Barry Scott

Wednesday, May 9th, 2012

On March 29th, 2012, VIPs from around California met in Stockton at the San Joaquin County Office of Education to celebrate the completion of their 500-kilowatt photovoltaic carport project.

Ribbon Cutting

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This project is significant for a number of reasons.  First, it represents a truly collaborative effort between the district, the business community, two non-profit organizations, and many dedicated teachers and students.

The two non-profit organizations are the National Energy Education Development (NEED) Project, and the Foundation for Environmental Education, both of which were asked by utility provider Pacific Gas and Electric to develop a comprehensive energy education program for K-12 public schools in their service area of California. As a result, the PG&E Solar Schools program was launched in 2004 and has since provided more than 9 million dollars in support to schools in the form of teacher trainings, grants, and solar installations. By 2008, 130 schools had been identified to receive a $25,000 grant to install 1.2 kilowatt educational “systems on a stick”, or grid tied pole mounted modules complete with Internet-based data monitoring.  To this day, the schools are able to monitor production of their own schools and compare it to other schools throughout the state.

Looking for ways to take the Solar Schools program in a new direction, the decision was made to shift from funding many small installations to identifying fewer schools to receive greater support for larger installations, and to include additional and sustained support for the schools, teachers, and students, to learn more about energy and to promote school-based energy efficiency programs such as energy audits, waste and water studies, and improvements in food service and transportation efficiency.

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The San Joaquin County Office of Education was one three districts identified to pilot this new vision.  Pacific Gas and Electric made the commitment to provide a $200,000 grant toward completion of a large photovoltaic system provided that it would be done in a reasonable amount of time. Efforts began in late 2010, when district leaders met to identify three potential building sites on the campus.

A Request for Proposals (RFP) was developed and sent to 18 vendors.  Five of these vendors replied with a number of solutions that included Cash Purchase, Power Purchase Agreement, and Lease Option funding proposals.  The decision was made to build 500-kW system on the western two-acre parking lot to serve the Wentworth Education Center.

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Unfortunately, before the team came to this determination they learned on December 24, 2010, that California Solar Initiative funds for non-residential projects in the PG&E service area were no longer available. Disappointed but not discouraged, they put their project on the CSI wait list in case funding might be restored.

Funding was the next major decision to be made. Some funding options were better than others, with a cash purchase solution being the most attractive, depending upon the interest rate.  The county employed the expertise of GFSI in Sacramento to critically review the five finalists proposals and the benefits and dangers of each funding solution.

Three of the five responding vendors were selected to provide a more detailed bid on the two-acre site, and asked to respond with a cash purchase price and to include 20 years of Operations and Maintenance, and an extended warranty on the inverters. Further, they were told to disregard CSI incentives in any Return on Investment (ROI) calculations they might include in their bids.

Ultimately, Solar City was the winning competitor. Not only was their price the most competitive at $5.00/watt, their experience in providing the lion’s share of the 125 1kW systems was proof of their ability to perform and their educational Internet-based data page has already become the standard for the Solar Schools program. The district asked Solar City for one tiny additional component: one car-charging station At that time, San Joaquin County had no level-II electric vehicle charging stations, and we thought it would be a perfect complement. Solar City happily acceded to our request! Our final project cost would be about $2,500,000 or $5/watt.

Because this project has such a profound educational component, the district decided to apply for Qualified Zone Academy Bond (QZAB) funding, the same funding that might be used to build a chemistry lab or wood shop.QZAB applications require a 10% match and the $200,000 gift from PG&E would be most of that, but leave us $50,000 shy of our needs. We went back to Solar City to ask what they might be able to do to help us meet this requirement, and after a number of conversations they agreed to add four more EV chargers for a total of five, and to include additional educational support.

In the end, the QZAB was granted and the interest rate on the funds is less than one percent. Below is an excerpt from the application detailing the educational component:

Energy Data Tracking: Students will be able to track, monitor, and analyze the power generated by the solar modules in real time using an Internet-based solar data-monitoring tool. The data can be analyzed by students to identify optimal performance periods and the amount of energy generated. Students will also be able to compare the data from Venture Academy with other schools throughout the State, utilizing the PG&E Solar Schools Program. In addition, the data will be incorporated into the Academy’s math and science courses in regards to graphing the data and calculating the environmental impact of school energy use, and changes in consumption and production by analyzing historical data, determining cost effectiveness of the solar modules, and comparing variables such as temperature and irradiance.

Energy Ambassadors: Students will participate in the development and implementation of energy efficiency and conservation efforts to reduce the schools’ carbon footprint. Students will provide presentations on these efforts to County schools, local businesses and organizations, and SJCOE staff, as a continuing effort to raise awareness of the importance of energy conservation.

Energy Audits: Students will assess SJCOE’s profile with respect to energy and water use, waste management, transportation, and other factors to develop strategies to be more efficient, sustainable, and to work towards carbon neutrality.

Electric Vehicle Charging Stations: Industry partner, SolarCity, will provide five level-two charging stations in support of this project, which will be the first level-two charging stations in San Joaquin County. Students will learn how to maintain and operate the charging stations, and will learn more about the electric vehicle infrastructure. In addition, the stations will integrate with current and planned transportation projects, including building prototype alternative energy vehicles.

Semi-Annual Sustainability Fairs: The laboratory will become the backdrop for sustainability and renewable energy celebrations. Academy students will host these events and staff informational booths, lead educational breakout sessions for attendees, including parents, staff, businesses, and agencies, and other key stakeholders.

Construction began in January 2012 and presented an invaluable opportunity for students that hadn’t even been considered in preparing the QZAB application. In addition to Venture Academy’s 1-kW system on a stick, the campus is home to one of five Pacific Gas and Electric Company sponsored “New Energy Academies”, California Partnership Academies designed to prepare students for advanced studies and careers in the energy sector.

Part of the academic and career educational design of the New Energy Academy is the requirement that students spend time job-shadowing workers in the energy field. The construction of this large project presented the perfect opportunity for students to observe and interact with contractors, and to observe first-hand the construction process from beginning to end. New Energy Academy teacher Jeannine Huffman provided hard hats, safety vests, and protective eyewear to her class before making regular visits to the worksite to observe every step from boring holes for support columns to construction of the steel support structure, placement of modules, and finally the electrical connection of the system through the inverters to the distribution panels. Jerry Kennedy and Jonathan Gornik of Solar City were most gracious in allowing students to come over twice weekly to learn all about the different processes and skills involved in the construction project and to ask different questions of the workers there. A second career academy launching this fall, the Clean Transportation Technologies Academy, will also benefit by studying the generation of this solar project and the usage of the electric vehicle charging stations.

All of these marvelous elements of this project, and more, were celebrated on a sunny Wednesday on March 29th. Special visitors included the California State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tom Torlakson, Ezra Garrett and Leah Casey, of PG&E, Mary Spruill, Executive Director of the NEED Project, Glen Kizer of the Foundation for Environmental Education, and several elected officials and their representatives. 

Local auto dealers brought electric vehicles, including the Nissan Leaf, a Chevrolet Volt, and an E-Mega manufactured in Stockton by Electric Vehicles International, one of the industry partners of the Clean Transportation Technologies Academy. 

There was even a Tesla Roadster brought to the dedication ceremony by a local owner.

The Tesla owner was kind enough to provide rides to students and teachers, and even gave Superintendent Torlakson a ride!

Tesla

Sierra Middle School’s Solarbration – Bakersfield CA

Friday, February 10th, 2012
Sierra’s 20 Kwatt array

Sierra’s 20 Kwatt array

On January 19th Sierra Middle School in Bakersfield California celebrated the official opening of their 20 kilowatt solar array. The array was made possible with a grant of $156,000 from the Pacific Gas and Electric Company Foundation, which sponsors the California Solar Schools Program. Sierra MS and it’s club the Kids for Solar Energy, has been part of the PG&E Solar Schools Program for the past eight years and was awarded the title of Model Solar School and the 20kw array was part of the award. The advisors of the KSE Club are Allison Arnold and Bob Hodash, who have received several grants and have worked together over the past eight years, expanding the after-school club, and its outreach efforts.

A sunny warm day greeted 30 members of the community of Bakersfield, including the Mayor, Harvey Hall, Kern County Supervisor Karen Goh, the BCSD Superintendent Dr. Robert Arias, Shawn Cooper, SeniorDirector of Corporate Affairs for the Pacific Gas and Electric Company, as well as many others, and more than 225 students from Sierra. Speeches were delivered, students demonstrated their skills at converting Solar Energy, and all four local television news shows, two newspapers, and even a radio station, had crews on hand to cover the event.

Ms. Arnold, Mr. Prieto, Mrs. Goh, Mayor Hall, Jesus Fernandez, Mr. Cooper (PG&E), & Dr. Arias

Ms. Arnold, Mr. Prieto, Mrs. Goh, Mayor Hall, Jesus Fernandez, Mr. Cooper (PG&E), & Dr. Arias

The Kids for Solar Energy Club was formed in 2005 at Sierra Middle School for students in grades 6th to 8th. The Club explores ways to use solar power to reduce greenhouse gasses and climate change. The students have used solar energy to cook foods such as: bread, pizza, chicken, and cookies. The KSE members have learned how to convert solar radiation into electricity to power model cars, fans, and lights. Additionally, the Club has explored electric energy consumption by monitoring the amount of electricity appliances consume and making recommendations on using power strips or unplugging unused appliances.

The KSE Club has been very active in the promotion of solar energy and green projects over the last eight years. We have presented at a number of local schools, Earth Day festivals, the Green Expo, Celebrate CSUB, as well as other events. Through our efforts we have educated our students and the public about the importance of saving energy, recycling, and the benefits of renewable technologies.

Another club, which includes many of the same members, Sierra’s Green Team, promotes recycling and has a vow to find a way to recycle most everything. Through this clubs efforts recycling at the school has become a way of life and has spread to many other schools. Over the past two years almost 75 thousand pounds of materials have been recycled. Enough to fill three large classrooms! Items such as batteries, paper, cardboard, cell phone, chip bags, worn out markers, etc. would have been sent to landfills are now being recycled and have raised some serious money for the student body fund. Yes, there are companies that will actually pay you for your used chip bags and other items!

Last year Bob Hodash was awarded the Solar Schools Inspirational Teacher Award, which was presented on the field of the AT&T Park in San Francisco, before a SF Giants baseball game. The award was presented by Leah Casey Program Manager for the PG&E Solar Schools Program and joining them on the field were 25 student members of the KSE Club and Allison Arnold, several other Teachers from Sierra and a BCSD school board member.

Monica

Monica

Kids for Solar Energy cooking with Solar Power Mayor Hall, Monica Ramos & Jessica Carreno

Kids for Solar Energy cooking with Solar Power Mayor Hall, Monica Ramos & Jessica Carreno

Happy Holidays – solar ideas for the holidays

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009
It’s the Tuesday after Thanksgiving – a holiday that has evolved over the years, and taken in the positive, it’s a time to be with friends and family – to express gratitude, and celebrate the local harvest.
In modern time, it also often marks the fervent start of holiday shopping…with Black Friday falling on the Friday after Thanksgiving, and Cybermonday on the Monday after the holiday. We’d like you to think of turning Thanksgiving and Black Friday through the holidays into a solar year…by changing the present.
Do you want to change the way the world is powered this holiday season?  Are you looking for a unique gift idea?  Think about making a donation to a solar non-profit partner.  Small donations for these organizations can make a huge impact.  And if you’re looking for a unique gift idea, or perhaps searching for the perfect item for that hard-to-shop-for person on your list, consider making a donation to one of the organizations below in their name.  Nothing says “I love you” like a little solar goodness.

Solar for Africa and the Amazon – Solar Electric Light Fund – fighting climate change and poverty with solar - Give Now

Solar Advocacy – support the solar advocates doing work around the US – Vote Solar - Give Now

Solar for Turtles – La Tortuga Feliz – help support the next phase of solar work at the sanctuary and the turtles year round - Give Now

Solar Affordable Housing – Grid Alternatives – low income housing and green jobs in California - Give Now

Solar Education – 100 People Foundation – connecting more schools and profiling solar leaders in the US and around the world  - Give Now

This is by no means an exhaustive list…pick your solar cause, and let’s change our solar present and future together!

Community And Culture

Sunday, April 19th, 2009

By Glen Kizer

Recently I was climbing over the solar panels on the roof of the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California (http://www.jcccnc.org ) when I realized why I love my job so much.  A lot of the time I get to have fun while I am working.  Alyssa Newman and I were on the roof with Ken Maeshiro, Special Events Coordinator and Facilities Manager from the Japanese Cultural Center and they were both doing very serious work having to do with the data collection system.  I really had no reason to be on the roof except that I had gone along with them.  I had my camera with me so I guess I was the “cameraman.”  In truth, we had more professionally taken pictures so I had to honestly admit to myself that I had climbed up onto this roof in the middle of Japantown (Nihonmachi) about a mile from downtown San Francisco because I like to climb on roof tops.


The array is about 30 kW so it should generate about 50,000 kWh of clean solar electricity every year, but we will be able to confirm exact numbers when the data collection system is up and running and on line.  This is another in a series of projects done around San Francisco as part of PG&E’s “Let’s Green this City” initiative.

Everyone at the Japanese Cultural and Community Center is very nice and they have covered all of the open space on their roof to get the most solar electricity out of the space they have available.  There are several interesting things about this project that I would like to share with you.

1.    When the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 hit, there were a lot of fires that burned down many homes and businesses.  The fire stopped at the area that is now Japantown.  Because of this, many people who had lost their homes moved into Japantown.  And because of the need for businesses to replace those lost in the Great Earthquake and subsequent fire, many homes were raised and businesses were put in underneath the raised homes…creating the mixed-use neighborhoods that modern day San Francisco is famous for today.


2.    They do things at the Japanese Cultural Center that I had never anticipated.  They have a number of cultural programs to help Japanese Americans learn about Japanese cooking and martial arts and arts and crafts to help them connect with their heritage.  They have programs of general interest like teaching about computers; and they open their facilities for many non-profit organizations around the City that are looking for meeting places.  They also have a huge gym and they have lots of exercise programs for families and children.

3.    Parking is a problem, so take lots of quarters…I mean a bag of quarters if you plan to stay long inside the Center.
4.    Solar City (and Alyssa) put in the touch screen kiosk so that people can learn about solar energy, read this blog site, and see live solar data from many of the PG&E Solar School Projects.  After one of the gym classes ended, many in the class drifted out into the main hallway and started reading the kiosk information.  I then noticed a funny thing.  They were all reading a story “Me-O-My-O Cleveland Ohio,” a blog story written by my son Alex about the ASES Conference in Cleveland, Ohio in 2007.  I called him in Washington DC to tell him that a bunch of parents and their kids were reading his story in downtown San Francisco.  The world really is getting flatter…if only we had more parking.

The Oceano Solar School Project

Friday, January 16th, 2009

Story written by Jim DeCecco, and credit to Darrin Neuer for Photographs

It was a great day to go solar.  Here at Oceano Elementary School, which is about 90 miles north of Santa Barbara, California, we had a “Solar Celebration”.  The classrooms of sixth grade teacher, Mr. DeCecco and fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Hall celebrated the start of renewable energy at Oceano Elementary School.  The students cooked S’mores in their solar ovens, flew solar balloons, and analyzed the output from their new 1 kilowatt solar system provided by Pacific Gas and Electric Company. 
This was the culmination of a 2 month energy unit in which they learned about the different types of energy.  The students analyzed how they use energy and where the energy they use comes from.  In Mr. DeCecco’s class the students will use the information they have gathered to write and publish an energy guide later in the semester.

  

The school is making a huge push to lower their energy costs.  A school wide effort is being made in order to use energy more efficiently.  The school used $22,000 worth of electricity last year.  An agreement with the school district will allow Oceano Elementary School to receive half of the savings from reduced electrical consumption at the school.  Students have been monitoring classrooms to make sure lights are turned off when no one is in the classroom.  They are making sure all refrigerators at the school are full, even if it means putting jugs of water in them.  Because as the students researched, a full refrigerator uses less electricity than an empty refrigerator.    Students hope that using energy wisely will allow them to go on a few more field trips this year. 

 
Of course, our new solar panels will help reduce the cost of electricity.  Students will be monitoring the output of the panels through special software hooked up to computers in the classroom.  They will look at the electricity generated by the solar panels and then calculate the savings to the school.  Besides using math and science skills to calculate electrical output and savings, the students can monitor the carbon savings from their computers.  The software breaks down the carbon savings for the students and that information is fed into the classroom.  They then can use the information while studying about Global Warming.

   
All in all it was a great day for a solar celebration. 

 


Spreading the word about Solar

Tuesday, November 18th, 2008

Hi, I’m Lucy Whitmore and I go to Evergreen 6 in Paradise California. Today I’m going to tell you about a special trip that five kids from my school got to go on to Red Bluff.

Evergreen 6 is a PG&E solar school. We have our own solar array, which powers Evergreen’s computer lab. Sometimes, Evergreen is invited to go on special trips to teach other people about solar power. This year, one of the trips was to Red Bluff to teach other sixth graders about solar. There are about 96 kids that go to Evergreen, and fifty qualified to go on the trip because they had all their work in. Many people wanted to go, but only five were picked. I was really happy that I got to go. Two days after they announced who was going, the lucky five got to school at 6:00 in the morning. Once everyone got there, we left for Red Bluff.

When we got to the Red Bluff science fair, a day where all of Tehama county’s sixth graders went to the fairgrounds for lessons on hands-on science, everyone set up the solar equipment. Some people set up solar gadgets on the tables, and others put up the “Evergreen 6” banners and blew up a solar balloon, which eventually popped. When all of that was set up, we got out the solar ovens and started making cookies so that the kids could try solar cooked food. By the time we finished that, we only had a few minutes to practice our presentations before the first group of kids showed up.

The first time that we did the presentations, it was nerve-wracking. I expected some of the kids to goof off and start talking to their friends, but they all just sat and listened. They were all really interested. With each presentation, it got easier to project your voice and just speak to all of the people.

We taught the other sixth graders about solar gadgets, like solar cell phone chargers, and about how solar ovens work. We also taught them about what solar power could be used for in the future and how it could work. After each group had listened to the presentations, we let them come up and try the solar gadgets and taste the cookies. It was really great, because all the kids were smiling and looking really excited. Most of the people there had never seen a solar panel in real-life, and they really liked it.

Going to Red Bluff was really fun. Besides, about a hundred more people now know more about solar. Some of those people could go home and tell their parents or siblings about solar power, and then even more people know about solar! It feels really good to know that you’ve taught more people about something important in our world. Also, it was so much fun!

Lucy Whitmore, 11, is a sixth grader at Paradise Intermediate School in the Evergreen 6 program. She enjoys reading, playing with friends, and making tie-dye things.

Lucy was among five students who, using the NEED philosophy, taught various aspects of solar energy to their peers in a neighboring county. Her contribution to the Red Bluff Solar day was to talk about large-scale solar, solar concentration, and alternative transportation. (Using solar to power small electric vehicles.)



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